Fun in the desert

Trip Start Sep 20, 2010
Trip End Dec 18, 2011

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Where I stayed
Hostal Cabur

Flag of Chile  ,
Sunday, June 12, 2011

San Pedro is a small town in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. At 3500m it is apparently the highest/driest combination place in the world.  I don't know about that but I wouldn’t be at all surprised.  Makes you wonder why anyone wants to live here, but lucky for us they do so we could have somewhere to stay.  We arrived a little bleary-eyed off the night bus (as usual) from La Serena and were approached by a lady who spoke English and had decent priced double rooms.  Done.  No need to try and battle in Spanish at 6am after no sleep and she even drove us there so we didn’t have to carry our bags!  The hostel was nice, although given the 'dry’ advert for the place the showers weren’t up to much.  It’s something psychological that if you know there are only cold showers you can handle a cold shower briefly, but when it’s supposed to be hot water and it goes cold after 2 seconds it’s a miserable experience!

The town itself is quite cute although a little too touristy for us.  Not in terms of the number of tourists but just the texture of place where every single place is a tour company or a souvenir shop.  Apparently a few years ago there was nothing much there but a few houses and the plaza, and it’s not hard to believe as you can imagine one shop after another catering for tourists popping up making it what it is now.  The first thing we did was try and book a star gazing tour for that night given our bad luck on this score in La Serena.  It seemed like it wasn’t meant to be because there was no space on the English speaking tour and although there was the possibility of them running a later tour, that depended on how many people signing up were English speakers or Spanish speakers as to what language it would be in.  To add to our frustration there were no tours for the next 5 nights after because of the full moon.  So we put our names down on the English speakers list along with a Kiwi we met called Brendan, bringing the score to 8 English speakers vs 6 Spanish speakers, and walked off fingers crossed. 

We went for a wander around town and bumped into an Irish guy called Paul who we had been in our hostel in Valparaiso.  I guess not exactly a small world because we were both still in Chile but strange enough.  The four of us decided to go on the sunset tour with our hostel as it was an ok price (in hindsight it actually seemed quite expensive!) so spent the rest of the day killing time and sightseeing San Pedro.  We actually got lucky and when we went back to the star place found out they were running the English tour! Woohoo!

The sunset tour was a bit of a let-down.  The scenery around San Pedro is absolutely breathtaking – endless views of mountains and desert, however every single hostel in San Pedro had a car transporting all the tourists in San Pedro to the same 3 spots! First off were some salt lakes which I have to admit were pretty cool, if not horrendously cold!! Because they were salt lakes you just float without doing anything, like the dead sea except its even denser.  The 3 lads went in pretty quickly but I have to admit I wimped around the edge for about 10 minutes before plucking up the courage to get into the icy water.  And I didn’t stay in very long either! It was cool though as the sensation is totally different to normal water – it feels strange when you try and swim and it takes a while to trust that you don’t have to tread water to keep your head above it! Even stranger was the opposite effect to normal water whereby it was actually warmer lower down than on top.  I’m sure Kevin would explain the scientific reason why this happens but I just thought it was cool! After this we rushed against the sunset to 2 water holes, which Paul wasn’t particularly impressed with, and the chased the sun to the final stop of the tour for the sunset.  It was an amazing setting, I just always wonder how there aren’t so many places in these gorgeous areas to at least take groups to a couple of different places instead of everyone being in one place.  Whinge whinge whinge Liz…I can hardly complain about such a beautiful place.  We got back just in time to head off on our late night star gazing tour which was amazing.  I’ve never looked through a telescope before and the place we went to had 9 massive telescopes all looking at different objects in the sky.  Apparently for actual star gazing we didn’t go at a great time because the moon was so bright, however for a novice it was great because we got to see a number of star constellations (including my own Scorpio which I’ve never seen before!), plus we got a close look at a near full moon which was probably the most incredible bit of all.  Also amazing was looking at Saturn….you could actually see the ring and some of the moons – it was so weird it almost looked a bit fake, like someone had stuck a little picture on the end of the telescope (anyone who has ever been to Greenwich Observatory and looked at ‘Pluto’, i.e. the Disney dog, through the telescope there will understand my concern!).

The next day Kevin, Brendan, Paul and I set off on bikes to explore the Valle de Luna.   Having done a number of bike rides in Cambodia I thought I was up for the challenge, however this was a completely different ball game.  A bike with gears was a stumbling block for starters and Kevin had to get on my bike a couple of times to change the gears, and then came the hills which were non-existent in Cambodia! We picked up a German girl (Sara) who was cycling on her own at the entrance to the valley and the 5 of us headed in.  The landscape and views were incredible for the whole day.  Everywhere we looked we stopped to take pictures – although I think sometimes people were stopping when they were out of breath and pretending it was for a photo op.  There are some impressive dunes and rock formations on the route we took, and heading back the whole way we got stunning views of 3 perfect cone shaped volcanoes.  A little tired but invigorated from such a fun day, when we got back Kevin and I had a beer, copied some movies from Brendan and Paul and headed towards the bus station for a night but to Arica.  Next stop Putre. 
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